The Role of the Chief Human Resources Officer in the Boardroom

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Human Resource Management Roles > Best Practices > The Role of the Chief Human Resources Officer in the Boardroom

The Role of the Chief Human Resources Officer in the Boardroom
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands, Moderator
A Corporate HR Officer (CHRO) used to be relatively unimportant in terms of influencing decision-making compared to other C-suite functions ( such as the CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, CTO, and CMO), mainly focusing on administrative tasks as establishing compensation plans. Since the past decades, however, they have gained importance: often they are reporting directly to the CEO and as such they can be said to be one of the CEOs key advisors. Their growing importance has resulted in a change in the requirements for new CHROs. A high level of leadership skills and strategy implementation skills are nowadays required.
Filler and Ulrich researched the role of the CHRO within the C-suite and report some surprising observations.
  1. RELATIVELY HIGH SALARIES: while the CEO and the COO naturally remain the jobs with the first and second-highest salary respectively, CHROs took the third place. According to Ulrich, these high salaries are needed because great CHROs are difficult to find.
  2. SIMILAR TRAITS AS CEOS: The authors made an assessment of the prevalence of several leadership traits among the members within the C-suite. The results were surprising: again the COO shared the most traits with those of the CEO, but the CHRO took the second place in terms of similar leadership traits with the CEO.
Of course, any CHRO must be able to show capabilities in a set of skills that are important for being a top leader. Filler and Ulrich therefore recommend that organizations consider their CHROs when searching for a new CEO. The experiences of the CHRO increase the likelihood of succeeding at the tasks of a CEO.
⇒ Do you agree HR officers should be considered more often as a potential successor of the CEO?
Ulrich, D. and E. Filler ”CEOs and CHROs: Crucial Allies and Potential Successors” Korn Ferry Institute 2014.
Ulrich, D. and E. Filler, "Why Chief Human Resources Officers Make Great CEOs", HBR December 2014.

The Role of the Chief Human Resources Officer in the Boardroom
Sandeep Hariani, Consultant, India, Member
People management is one of the key agenda points of the CEO, along with Bottom line growth, Customer retention, etc
So whether the CEO is from an HR background or any other, the skills of managing multiple portfolios is a key skill that the CEO should have. Yes, CHROs do have the people management skills and understand operations and utilization, but also need to be highly decisive. Most of the times, they are driven by people factor and are soft and not too aggressive as a CFO would be. However I believe that more than the role that a person played earlier, the skills are more important. Thanks.

Advisory Role of CHRO in the Boardroom
Shumba, Student (Other), Zimbabwe, Member
Many (HR) advisory roles are the responsibility of the CHRO and if HR practices are not in line with the law the company can make losses through litigations and court cases. Therefore CHRO must be able to interpret laws and advise the correct decisions as he/she will be required to represent the company at the courts and their decisions can be disastrous and costly.

Requirements for a CHRO to Succeed as a CEO
Fiery Agramon, Manager, Saudi Arabia, Member
For a CHRO to succeed as a CEO, he needs to be very strong, not just in workforce and human capital management or even in leadership skills, but also in the following key business management fields:
- Marketing and branding
- Accounting and finance competencies
- Grounded in business operations
- Full spectrum of organization development (people, process, structure, culture, strategy)
- Information systems

I have seen these as key requirements in the development of a true CEO. In previous decades, Finance people have always succeeded the CEO, but recently, the CFOs have been overturned by the CMOs and directors or VPs/SVPs of marketing because of the role marketing executives play in touching base with customers.

If CHROs can be very good at the triumvirate FINANCE - MARKETING - OPERATIONS, I can agree that they can be the next CEOs - and would even be the best ones !

The Role of Chief Human Resources Officer in the Boardroom
Zaddock Oguta, Consultant, Kenya, Member
My classroom experience on the same ignites me to support the above contributions, especially @Shumba's. A successful CHRO needs to ensure he/she is well versed with relevant laws and labour relations even if there is Company Secretary or Lawyer as he/she strives to get the best during recruitment and selection; training & development; performance appraisal and feedback; pay and benefits.
Secondly the CHRO need to be flexible to both market and political environments.

Reflection of the Growing Importance of Human Factors?
Ben Smith, Manager, United Kingdom, Member
In developed economies where service and tertiary industries are having growing importance, it makes sense to choose someone who is good at spotting talent and developing people. In fact, the appointing and acquisition of new managers is among the top decision making roles of today's CEOs, alongside company acquisition (which is sometimes more about people than market). Google and Yahoo are examples of where the stakes are high in talent management. From a nomothetic (new piece of jargon I learnt this week) point of view, organizations should include their CHROs in the shortlist.

Every Institution Creates It's Own Potential CEO Successor
Fahrettin Otluoglu, CMC, Management Consultant, Turkey, Member
I think this question could only be regarded relevant at large and global institutions where C-suites are necessary. This position is necessary where finance, marketing and operation C's are established. To rank which C whould be next CEO depends on the vision of the institution. It is a unique decision.

It All Depends - Mindsets and Behavioral Style versus Traits and Preferences
Ulrich Schweiker, Director, Germany, Member
As former Corporate HR Leader (a label I do prefer to Chief Human Resources Officer) as well as former Corporate Chief (Officer? Or Leader?) I do appreciate the difference in the respective roles:
- An HR Leader should have have a mindset that tends towards advising and consulting and coaching. That may be based on the same set of attitudes as Dave Ulrich's research illustrates.
- On the contrary, Chief Executive Officers have a tendency of making decisions and pushing forwards with a higher risk taking.
In a corporate setting both roles are good and I favor both working together with a controversial dialogue culture! Well, during smooth times, the roles may be exchangeable, in rough surroundings, however, it is better to have them in contra-positions, for the whole system's sake!
So if times are proper to have a HR Leader succeeding as CEO go for it; if not better search for an appropriate CEO and keep the HR Leader where she or he is!

CHROs Can Become CEOs If...
Deborah Kramer, Management Consultant, United States, Member
If you define an effective CHRO in the way that Ulrich and Filler do, then it follows that these individuals may be very good CEO candidates. But research also indicates that there are more key experiences that enable CEO success, including P&L management and global business management and operations experience. Just being able to set a vision and direction and engage people with that (traits common to great CHROs) is not sufficient unless the person also has the relevant business experiences that are essential to running an enterprise.

CEO versus CHRO
Gregory Johnson, Coach, United States, Premium Member
There are a few great comments that are on point. I agree with Schweiker, Agramon and Hariani.
Traditionally the HR function has not been of a business nor a bottom-line mind set. Without it you cannot effectively run or lead an organization.
Times have changed somewhat, where the incoming generation of leaders have become conditioned to look only or primarily at the bottom line absent the human side of the organization. There must be an appreciation of both, because you can't effectively reach your goals as an organization unless both skills and qualities are present. Things get accomplished THROUGH people oftentimes FOR people as employees, clients and customers.
So do I think HR people could make good CEO's? As I see the historical and current trend - NO! We are talking of two extremes when managing and running a business and organization. Listen to Mr. @Schweiker who has walked both sides or the challenge and so have I.

From Mere Support to Strategic Relevance
Joseph L Mbolota, HR Consultant, Zambia, Member
What do you do when you have done all you can to warrant a sit at the board table. Especially in an environment where every other Jim and Jack feel they can do HR work after all.

CHRO as a Successor to CEO
Paul D. Wilson, Manager, United States, Member
@Deborah Kramer: I agree. The role of the CEO requires a view of the world and the business environment that the CHRO may or may not possess. While I do not believe that they should be excluded based upon their function, I do not believe that it is obvious that they would have this view.

CHRO in the Boardroom
Yagappen Stephen, Sri Lanka, Member
Board room is the place where business is spoken and the CHRO has to be aligned with business thinking. This is the contribution the CHRO can make by utilizing the human resources of the oranisation. The CHRO should look at business matters and bring in how HR can be part of the business.

People Director Role
Andy Radka, Director, United Kingdom, Premium Member
Agreed though I think title should be changed to People not HR - or to Organisational Development Director.

Looking for a new CEO
Pierce, Consultant, Member
To me the current position does not matter. I would look at the person and the value they could add with their skill set. I would choose a lower position individual with a great attitude, a passion for the business, and the right skill set over a CFO or CHRO.

Chief Human Resource Officer's Role on the Boardroom?
Sandy Musallam, Editor, United States, Member
Perhaps it's not a great idea to mix the CHRO with the Board. The CHRO needs to maintain a very objective position when hiring new talents for the organization, and in my opinion a close CHRO relationship with the Board can tamper the ability of the CHRO to make the right decision in hiring the best of the talents as opposed of hiring the candidates based on who they know instead on what they know.
Let the CHRO be the "the neutral party", not a participant in the company's politics.

The Redundant HR Position
Greenberg, Business Consultant, Canada, Member
I do not put much value on the importance of HR personnel. More often than not they have too high an opinion of their contribution to the organization. Unless they have had line experience, their abilities and knowledge of the work to be done is limited. In many case they relieve operation management of the task of becoming involved in the hiring process.

HRO as Future CEO?
Rossy Supardi, HR Consultant, Indonesia, Member
Agree, a very important factor in business is its people. A business is built by people. So a good CHRO might become a good CEO as long as he or she broadens their knowledge with other important skills e.g., finance, marketing, operations, etc.

All Officers Play an Important Part
Cesar, Teacher, Mexico, Member
After all, we need to remember that every officer is an important piece at the company, so every quarterback plays a strategic role in the business growth and success. I can´t say that one of them is more important than others, because they all are part of a team, and thats the way we have to see them at the company.

Is the CHRO the Best Fit for the Position of CEO?
Zeb O. WATURUOCHA, Management Consultant, India, Member
It is important to note that the CHRO along with the CEO are the two principal positions that are in touch with each and every division, department or section of the organisation. The difference is that the CEO is more oriented to the business and financial aspects of the company, whereas the CHRO is more inclined to the human side of the organisation. A slight touch towards the finance of the company along with the human side of the organisation makes the CHRO the best fit for the CEO's post.

CHRO as Future CEO
ghanshyam, Project Manager, India, Member
H.R. persons normally absorb the organization function by hearsay, without any accountability. This gives only superficial knowledge. For any role change he will try first to establish himself. And by the time he learns the intricacy of job your organization will become sick.

HR Dealing with People is Like Teaching and Sports ..
Ulrich Schweiker, Director, Germany, Member
@Joseph L Mbolota: Well, this is a classic to HR.
It is comparable to the teachers' dilemma: all parents consider themselves to be excellent teachers as well... And give professional teachers a hard time...
The same is true with sports: the majority of TV watchers of sports consider themselves the better coaches... And they would deliver much better games than the professionals.
HR is used to that role I guess... As long as HR leaders cannot demonstrate "cases" where their opinion proved to be more appropriate than the amateurs' decisions!

Role of Chief of HR in Board Room
K.Narayana Moorthy, HR Consultant, India, Member
The main Chief HRO Roles are:
  1. Convincing others with a strong will of steel that HRM is very much deeply involved in Strategy Formulation in terms of goals/objectives & strategy policies, in Management Control in terms of implementation of strategies, and in Task Control in terms of efficient/effective performance of tasks.
  2. Convince/Enthuse others that HRM is responsible to the organization in terms of personnel activities including recruiting & selection process; maintaining records; motivating employees; registering credentials; compensation; job classifications; re-employement appeals; positional adjustments; task adjustments; training & development; maintaining employee's end-to end life cycle;
  3. Convince/Enthuse that organization gets benefits from HRM - in terms of job-analysis; performance/evaluation; decision making; empowering people to use/up-grade their skills
  4. HRM expects all departments to be involved in Business Knowledge, HR Technology and Innovation
  5. Ensuring people's trust and credibility.

From HR Managers Roles & Responsibilities to CEO
Feraidoon Bakhtiari, CxO / Board, Iran, Member
A good HR manager is a strategist, developer, planner, promoter and organizer. This means that such a person has the ability to perform management. And management = C3I.
C - Command
C - Control
C - Communication
I - Intelligence
To have these capabilities, a HR manager needs to be selected, trained and developed under a well defined discipline and guided and promoted in his career.
The HR manager is one who knows:
- Strategic policy orientation of the company / organization
- Strategic plans / mission / vision of the company and board
- Chain of integrated basic and non-basic activities
- Job evaluation schemes / job classification / job grouping tools and techniques
- Performance and potential assessment and appraisal
- Career planning
- And operations
HR managers know how to lead the organization, How to deal with people, How to solve problems and finally How to make decisions regarding HR needs to perform better and their desires to innovate and create moments of honor.
If they are correctly selected and grown they can be excellent CEOs.

Role of Chief of HR or HR Manager in India
bhumika, Student (University), India, Member
In India, the role of HR is very important. The HR Manager or Chief HR takes the decisions relating to the employees and deals with any grievances of employees. The CEO is the key person who takes all decisions balancing the organization's benefits and employee benefits.
Co-ordination is required in the organization. If the Chief HR is strong he/she can co-ordinate well with employees and motivates them to increase the productivity, organizational commitment, achieving individual as well as organizational goals.
The Chief HR must also make industrial relations peaceful. He is a director for the employees. For example he motivates employees regarding their work and wages.

The Role of the CHRO in C-Suite / Can the CHRO Make an Appropriate CEO?
Veteran Air Commodore DR HSR, Consultant, India, Member
The discussion is mind provoking. I would like to share an example which I generally give in HR talks. If you open your watch on your wrist, you'll see multiple toothed wheels, pendulums, springs. They are all are connected in a manner producing time change as a service/product without a failure, working with precision. This is a good example of how HR can link skills and people at all levels, resulting in a 100% business outcome.
Also the HR Head is important for developing the VISION, MISSION and OBJECTIVES of the organization. That's why he is ideally suited for the place of CEO if he is able to achieve outcome in the described manner.

CHRO as Potential Successor to CEO
Ed Neri, HR Consultant, Philippines, Member
I agree that a CHRO has the potential to be successor to a CEO although not as often as we would want to. The CHRO, to be considered, must learn skill sets in the field of operations, finance, marketing and general management. He/she must be able to show and prove the understanding of the business and move strategy towards profitability of the business and share value. These skill sets must be learned and applied in addition to being an HR strategist and manager.

CHRO Most Relevant in Knowledge Industries
Indeed this discussion is mind provoking. Undoubtedly in a knowledge-based industry or entity the CHRO's prominence in the board room is logical given the value of human capital that far surpasses the importance of financial or manufactured capital.
It goes without saying then that their astute manpower planning and strategic planning skills feed in directly into the value creation process at a higher plateau than that of the CFO if the company or entity is to have the best professional with foresight in their industry.

From Chief HR to CEO
K.Narayana Moorthy, HR Consultant, India, Member
It is agreed that a CHRO typically has the potential to become CEO. He can be a competing candidate in the selection process of CEO.
The CHRO also should make further efforts to acquire knowledge necessary for the role & responsibilities of CEO, in addition of his own, if he desires to compete for the CEO's post.

Preparing Candidates for CEO Role
Zeb O. WATURUOCHA, Management Consultant, India, Member
@K.Narayana Moorthy: I would not use the word 'competing candidate'. Rather I would use 'best fit', provided there is a deliberate effort geared towards making him the CEO. Competing results into a winner/looser situation and this is the beginning of antagonism between two or more influential people in the organisation. Helping people know where they are and where they are going next enables them to prepare for that.

Role of Human Resources Management in Reality
rajiv gupta, Business Consultant, India, Member
In India, what we actually see is that HR leadership is mainly focused on service delivery, i.e., they are focused on providing discrete HR services like recruitment, HR admin, training etc. They rarely are able to go beyond this. Further they usually do not have a strategic understanding of the business or the market or the business operations.
As such they generally are business neutral. While this enables them to move from one industry to another and thus have substantial career options, they usually do not make any strategic impact. They thus do not have the exposure to move into CEO role or make any impact at Board level.
I do not see many HR leaders having moved into CEO role. I am not sure what is the situation abroad, but going by the literature I do not think the situation is any different. Despite of the importance of the people factor and companies' statements that 'people are our greatest assets' very few companies actually practice this and this is where the credibility of HR leadership is tested.

The Role of the CHRO
Chikumbu Happy, Lecturer, Zimbabwe, Member
A CEO's primary role is to create a competitive advantage for his/her organisation. This function is made possible by the timeliness of gathering and processing relevant information to react to the opportunities and threats in the external environment.
A CEO makes decisions that reflect the type and quality of information supplied by the team of HODs in the organisation and personal networks. An HOD who makes a difference in supplying relevant information on opportunities and threats to the CEO demonstrates best fit to succeed the CEO.

CHRO not a Potential Replacement of CEO
Gwande, Project Manager, Zimbabwe, Member
While I agree that the CHRO plays a key role in effective and well managed companies, they cannot be CEO. Their focus is the human component of the organisation, but they are not savvy in the organization's core business. A social scientist cannot be a good leader. The highest they can typically go in my view is being the CHRO. But not the CEO.

CHRO as a Potential Replacement of CEO
Tabary, Strategy Consultant, France, Premium Member
Definitely this position has climbed in importance and place within the organisation and now sits in the boardroom.
The task of overseeing and knowing the value of the organisation through its employees is precious to CEOs.
To take over a CEO position, the CHRO needs to show overall business, financial and operations understanding. My experience is that often this 'big picture' lens is missing. But it can be added if the legacy is handed down effectively.

'Hard Science'?
Ulrich Schweiker, Director, Germany, Member
@Gwande: May I remember that the discussion on hard and soft is misleading: if we would take the same efforts to monitor human behavior as we monitor for example currency exchange rate fluctuations (with little success though it is considered a "hard issue" by most), we would result in perceiving HR as a hard science as well. - I think the different mindsets of being a consultative mentor versus a decision-maker and doer is in focus.
Just a second thought: the success in hospitals is mostly based on belief systems of curers and patients (and relatives), on placebos and attributions (all to be considered soft stuff!).

CHRO, a Vital Cog in the Organization's Executive Wheel
Sonny Vicente, Coach, Philippines, Member
I agree with most of the foregoing reactions that the HR function has already transcended the outmoded former perception of just being a recorder, disciplinarian, recruiter, compliance officer and career counselor.
Now, the HR function is greatly involved in Organizational Development that impacts the sustainable growth of the organization. It is involved in assessing the "health" of the organization from the results, or lack of it, caused by the internal human factor in terms of its capacity, competency and/or change-readiness.
Aside from finding the cause from the effect on the "health" condition of the organization, it's now also tasked to involve itself in coming up with solutions or recommendations to improve the organization's situation.
In my opinion, the skills needed to effectively perform the job of the CHRO are closely similar to that of the CEO.

CHRO and Organization Growth
K.Narayana Moorthy, HR Consultant, India, Member
The old OD concept is: "a planned, organization-wide effort, managed from the top, to increase an organization's effectiveness and health through planned interventions" processes", using behavioural-science knowledge.
The new dimension of OD is: "the attempt to influence the members of an organization to expand their candidness with each other about views of the organization and their experience in it, and to take greater responsibility for their own actions as organization members".
When both these objectives are simultaneously pursued, new ways of working together are discovered and experienced to achieve the goals of the employee as well as the shared, organizational goals.
It is seen that Empowerment Works (EW) with its key elements: Collaboration; Positive Alternatives; Comprehensive Solutions; Investing in Economic Opportunities, becomes a reality for an organization's growth.
A CHRO is to do this with his knowledge and not to become a cog in a wheel. Hence CHRO.

HRM and Organisational Alignment
Akintunde Olusegun, Consultant, Nigeria, Member
The greatest asset of any organization is its human capital. Behind every operation is this all-important element to put to work all other factors of production, be they manufacturing or service.
It is therefore crucial that the CHRO and the growth of the organization are synchronized to achieve results. A CHRO must indeed be at the executive floor of any forward looking and world class organization in today's global competition.

CHRO is the King Maker
dodi gunawan, Indonesia, Member
Based on my 26 years of HR experience, it is clear that CHRO is the king maker for other main functions of the organization:
- We develop organizations where people try to prove their competencies.
- We provide talented & highly motivated people through systematic recruitment and selection, objective performance evaluation, equity & competitive reward system, clear career path and training programs to boost the company's performance.
- We do all of this for the sake of people happiness to support their ultimate productivity for the organization.
We are the only person who is capable of translating the CEO's strategic vision through people and organizational development methods.
That's why I believe the CHRO is the king maker for marketing, operation, finance and many facets of the company's departments.

Promoting The CHRO to the CEO Position
ghanshyam, Project Manager, India, Member
In India, the majority of companies are family managed.

In these companies, the CHRO role is not fully operational. Seventy-five percent of the new CHRO recruits lack the required skills even for the CHRO job profile. Most companies consider human-beings as a pure commodity, similar in concept to comparing wheat and rice on calories they provide. I believe there are at most 5% of the CHROs in the market, who may be capable of being the CEO.

The common characteristics amongst HR professional in India are rudeness, self-centeredness, non-cooperativeness, and non-visionary thinking. They are normally trained to be A type category on the PAEI management styles assessment. If the CHRO is promoted to CEO from this type of background, the individual will definitely be the worst CEO ever seen in their organization.

Sustainable Development Enhances the Relevance of HR in the C-suite Level
Indeed the role of the C-suite HR practitioner will get much more pronounced within the next year; as the cruising gears change from Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals this year... There will be a demand for planning at organizational level, not only on the economic fronts (CFO), but also there is demand for HR practitioners at the C-suite for social aspects (people & community); environmental planning etc… They need to position the institutions’s safety, health & environmental habits as well as the entity’s knowledge capital. Strategic HRM is here!

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